I have not had a chance to do any environmental portrait since shooting Fay in Shanghai which was about a year ago. So I set myself a target to do at least a few sets this year while I’m back in London. Normally, I work with real people doing whatever they are passionate about and put them in a relevant context – whether it is dancing, art, sport or in this case cycling.

I have known Hisayo for a well over 7 years now. One thing that she has a lot of is dedication. One morning, she was hit by a taxi on the road while cycling to work. She was knocked over, landed her head on the tarmac with scrapes and cuts on arms and feet. She was taken to a hospital. After the doctor stitched her wounds and did some MRI scan of her head, she decided she should continue to go to work. Not many people turn up for work with head bandage. So yes, the first word that came to my mind was dedication (and then followed by crazy).

Despite all that, she continues to cycle for a few local clubs in London. So i asked her to be my model for the shoot. We met up really early one Saturday morning at 5:30am in full gear at Hammersmith bridge. Hisayo with her bike and I was strapped with my photog gears. The early shoot is partly due to the low light level which gives my speed lights relatively stronger outputs against the sun but it is also has much stronger colour in the sky.


So the first shot above I tried with just one diffused light on a stand to the right of the frame. It gave a nice soft light that wrapped around Hisayo’s face but everything else is just black. It could work as a shot but it’s not the look that I’m after today. I wanted to create more of the natural early morning light that blends in with the sky so you don’t even notice they’re there.

So I corrected by lower the power of the right speedlight down and slower the shutter speed to allow more natural light in. This made the lighting of the foreground more balance with the sky in the background.  I also moved it back slightly to avoid the reflection on her sunglasses. I decided to throw in another speedlight on the ground, right behind Hisayo just to pick up the bike and her left edges in the shadow. It made such a big improvement, but again, the light and shadow casting on the ground created by the speedlight at the back was not natural.


To correct this,  I dialled the power of the back speedlight right down to -3.0ev and tilted the head upward to prevent the ground being lit up, and…Voila. Both speedlighs were on but they didn’t create light or shadow that look out of place. The right speedlight matches the general direction and colour of the sun.


We did a few more shots on the bridge. At this point, the sun came up so we decided to move on to Richmond park otherwise the sun will be too strong when we get there. So we packed the gears and headed to the park. Hisayo was on her bike and I rented one of the Boris bikes


Getting there we cycled to Hammersmith and then Chiswick and entered the park from Sheen gate. Below is Hisayo gliding through her neighbourhood with her carbon fibre bike even carrying some of my gears while I tried to catch up with her on this barclay’s beast which must have been casted with iron and 6″ wide tires.


By the time we arrived it was 8:30am and the sun was already high up on the horizon. The option of lighting became more limited as the output of one speedlight is not comparable to the sunlight.

I had the image of Hisayo standing in the middle of dry grass field in mind during the planning. Luckily we didn’t have to go far to find it. There was a large patch of brown meadow right in front of the gate the we had just entered. The air inside the park was still very cold from the night before. Despite bright sun and our warm up exercise of riding here, we quickly set up the light stand and got on with the shooting.

The lighting set up with Hisayo shivering.


With the subject in the nature setting like this, I try to make the lighting on the subject as soft as possible. One way is to double filter the light, other is to enlarge the light source. I would have gone with double filtering with another white reflector had there been an assistant to hold it up. Today it is solo job so there is no other option but to use the largest shoot through umbrella.

I use the 24-70mm lens just to not be so far away from the subject. Camera setting was 1/250 F10 with ISO64. Flashes were set at +1ev
and the results are…..


Another close up shot


This shot I asked Hisayo to climb onto a tree with her bike just to get a different perspective. She was thinking of a much higher position, like the branch on top of the picture below! Not interested to take just the picture of her feet and having my model broken her legs on the shoot, we settled with a fallen log beside the street.


Having not done a shoot on location since Shanghai, this shoot turned out to be so much fun and a good exercise for me. It took 7 hours of work overall. There were always the difficulty of getting up early, carrying gears around, packing and unpacking but in the end the result always well worth the effort.

Right, I better head back to the nearest docking station some 30 minutes away before they think the bike has been lost.

More to come.